Amber Donat graduated from Trevecca in 2018 with a degree in social justice and a minor in environmental justice. She has taken her degree and used it to touch the lives of people in need of compassion throughout California.
After college graduation, I moved back to my hometown of Fresno, California. It’s the fifth-largest city in California and an agricultural hub for the world, with more than 1.88 million acres of industrial farmland. Despite Fresno's substantial size, massive production of food and the money that comes with it, it is one of the most disinvested cities in California, with a 24 percent poverty rate. Many residents never see or taste any of the fresh food grown here, but instead fill their diets with processed foods from corner stores. These are important statistics to share to get people invested in revitalization, and they’re the types of statistics and information professors taught me to research, understand and care about when I was studying at Trevecca.
My first job out of college that allowed me to use my social justice degree was with a local nonprofit organization called Fresno Metro Ministry. In this role, I managed three existing community gardens; created a 7.5-acre community garden and permaculture farm incubator training program; collected data on multi-million dollar grants for a food waste recovery program; and established the beginning steps of a local food policy council for Fresno County. I worked there for two years before deciding to pursue a teaching career to work directly with the next generation to show them the importance of environmental stewardship and education—a decision influenced significantly by my time at Trevecca studying and working on the Urban Farm.
I have been with the Fresno Unified School District since 2021, and feel fortunate to have been able to launch a new middle and high school course for the district called Sustainable Agriculture. I teach this course at a secondary school designated for students released from juvenile hall or expelled from traditional schools for behavioral issues, substance abuse or other reasons. While this is definitely not a teaching position for everyone, it's a perfect fit for me given my experience and educational background. These students come to us with complicated and delicate lives, but they are our future, and they are the ones who most deserve to learn about caring for our soil, plants, animals and the earth. Navigating these systems and their challenges was part of what I learned in the social justice program, and that gave me the tools to succeed in this unique position. I get to use the things I learned every day with every student I meet.
In my free time, I volunteer with an outstanding organization called Insight Garden Program, which works with incarcerated men and women in the California prison system, teaching them how to garden and care for themselves emotionally. The prison where I volunteer is a sensitive needs men's yard about an hour and a half from where I live. Inside the run-down classroom are 20 men eager to be allowed to touch the garden soil. They tell me stories of hope while living in the most hopeless place imaginable. I think about the stories told in my religion classes about Jesus spending time with those who were considered "the least of these." I think about my students and how this will be a reality for a lot of them in the near future without intervention from people who care, which reminds me to live life with a heart of unconditional love.
I was taught many things in the social justice program, but one of the most important lessons I learned was how to love deeply in a way that raises people up and supports their voices rather than being self-centered.
When I think back on the timeline of my life, and specifically when I decided I would go to Trevecca, I didn’t know what I wanted to do career-wise. All I knew was that I wanted to study and dedicate my life to leading and helping people. I have to smile and laugh at the ride that desire has taken me on. Through the ups and downs of it all, I am most thankful to my professors who never gave up on me and gave me grace and support in the challenge of understanding and creating positive change from decades of systemic injustice.